Red-tailed Vulture

Last Sunday I decided to try a new spot for sparrows. Didn’t find any “yellow” sparrows but it was loaded with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Plus my FOS White-crowned Sparrow was singing nearby and a few Eastern Meadowlarks¬†thrown in for a bonus.

That’s all well and good but what caught my eye was a hawk in a nearby tree. When I first arrived there were crows hanging around. Every so often a couple would make a bee-line to a nearby tree.

It took a few minutes to finally spot the hawk they were harassing. Or was it a vulture? I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t that far away and for someone who didn’t start birding yesterday, the call should have been instantaneous. But it wasn’t. So I walked closer hoping it wouldn’t fly.

rtha-head-2 Red-tailed Vulture
First look from a distance. The body says hawk but the head said vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

As I moved closer it became clear that it was a hawk without any head feathers. Something I’ve never seen before. I was pretty certain it was a Red-tailed but still not 100%.

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What would cause the head on this Red-tailed Hawk not to have feathers? Molting? Disease? I didn’t know. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

Otherwise the bird appeared healthy. After being harassed long enough it flew over to a nearby roof not showing any signs of illness. Its flight and landing both looked normal.

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If I’d just seen the head in this photo I would have called this a vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

For fun I looked at other vultures around the world seeing if this guy looked like any of them. Thinks to Wikipedia I discovered there are 23 species in the world – 16 Old World and 7 New World. I looked at all 23 and none really have the brown of Red-tailed Hawk with a gray head. To my eye the closet one in appearance to the odd hawk is the Old World Cinereous Vulture also known as Eurasian Black Vulture or Monk Vulture.

cinereous-vultures
This Cinereous Vulture is about as close as I could find to matching the odd-looking Red-tailed Hawk.

If anyone has any idea what is wrong with the hawk please leave a comment.

5 Replies to “Red-tailed Vulture”

    1. Thanks Mark, after looking again I think you are correct. I’m going to do a follow up pointing that out and I’ve found some websites pointing out the causes for head baldness. In the field the hawk appeared larger like a Red-tailed and I was more concerned with the bald head. I should have looked at the photos a little closer. Not the first time I’ve been wrong…

  1. In August I had a juvy red shouldered with a similar head problem, but not to this extent. The tail banding appears too narrow for a red shouldered.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully I can relocate the bird at a later date to see if it’s feathers have grown in.

      As I replied to Mark after taking the time to check this appears to be a young Red-shouldered. I’ll follow up with the differences at a later date.

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